Two Peoples and Two Worlds
What was it like to be a slave? Historians may never be able to answer that question fully since the men and women held in bondage in the United States left few records to tell their story. The slave narratives offer the best evidence we will ever have on the feelings and attitudes of America's slaves, and these records present a story which differs considerably from some of the best known historical studies.
Since 1959 American historians have shown a deepening interest in the psychological reality of slavery. Stanley Elkins's Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life painted a grim picture of the psychic emasculation of black Americans by an exploitative institution that encountered few societal barriers to its operation. Drawing on analogies to the Nazi concentration camps, Elkins's book provoked a storm of controversy and some valuable rebuttals by black scholars. The best and most thorough of these replies was John Blas singame 's The Slave Community, which stressed the strength and mental independence that slaves could derive from their own group. Along with Peter Wood's award-winning study, Black Majority, Blassingame's book pointed to the importance of an Afro-American culture among the slaves. This perspective has informed almost every subsequent study, including Eugene Genovese 's Roll, Jordan, Roll.
Possessing many strengths, Genovese's work was one of the first to make extensive use of the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narratives or the interviews conducted by researchers at Fisk University. Its overall picture of the slaves, however,